Had not my daughter insisted, I would have gone to my grave never having eaten a raw oyster, and I would have been much the poorer for that. During a trip to San Diego last year, she introduced me to them. On our trip last week, I knew she had changed my life.
I’m sure ambience is important, and there are volumes to be written about the atmosphere in Little Italy, a suburb rich in culture and glorious food. Our go-to destination has never disappointed us. Although no visit is complete without a classic Italian dinner at Buon Appetito on India Street, (this trip, it was the superlative Osso Buco on a bed of risotto), our seafood target is Ironside Fish and Oyster across the street. In fact, it was so good, we had dinner there one evening and went back when it opened for lunch the next day!
The restaurant itself is rather playful, with a giant octopus hanging over the diners and ship figureheads high in the corners. The entry on Yelp says that Michelin star chef Jason McLeod is in charge.
There were four of us eating, and my daughter ordered 24 oysters. There were half a dozen varieties of oysters to choose from, and she chose the two smallest kinds, which she considers to be the sweetest. The oysters were arranged in a circle on a bed of ice on a round plate with fresh lemon wedges and little metal cups of champagne vinaigrette and horseradish. My preferred method of eating them was with only a few drops of the vinaigrette.
Sipping an oyster from its shell is a wonder like no other—the fresh breath of the sea, the delicate taste of the oyster, the bright taste of the chilled Chardonnay afterward. Truly, it elevates a culinary experience to a spiritual one. The simplicity and the elegance evoke images of fine art and music. It is cuisine as poetry.
The master of letters, Ernest Hemingway, said it best in A Moveable Feast, when he wrote:
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Our plans are to return as soon as we can!